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•^i!^m*?i^^:- • 

The Early Days 
of Cornell 













JAN 23 1973 






It was on a No/einl)cr morning in the year 1868, a 
morning chill, dark, and sad with rain, but bright in 
my life, that, li.iving travelled by the night train 
from New York, I first wt foot in Ithaca. I was re- 
ceived bv Andrew D. White, and after breakfaMting 
at the Clinton Honse, taken ont on the 'n.\ by Ezia 
Cornell In his well-known buggy. Tht. '.len stood 
on that hill one far from imposing block of building, 
.viorrill Hall I believe it is now called. The Campus 
had not been laid out. No bridge was over the creek. 
All was Rome before Rome was built, and for the 
new-comer f'om that venerable city by the Isis had 
the full ch n of novelty. 

Now, after the lapse of a little more than a single 
generation, re-visiting Cornell, I see all these buildings, 
homes of learning and s .--nee in every branch, while 
the fair Campus is bus \nd cheeriul with the life 
of three thousand students. Such is the magic of 
American energy and enterprise. 

I had been in the United States in the time of the 
war, when I was Professor of Modern History at Ox- 
ford. Family reasons having afterwards led to the 

4 The Early Days of C»nell 

resignation of my Professorship, I was left without 
any special occupation and was thinking; of re-visiting 
the United States. Just then it was my good fortune 
to meet Andrew D. White, who invited me to take part 
as Lecturer on History in the foundation of the new 
University. The invitation was gladly accepted. The 
Lectureships were non-resident. But I willingly re- 
sided and took a regular part in the teaching for two 
years. Originally the Lecturers were ten in number ; 
now I am afraid we are one. 

Raw as everything then was, the eyes of the new- 
comer could not fail to feed on the supreme beauty of 
the site ; the platform overhanging the lake ; the azure 
lake, the gorges, the waterfalls, the woods, which, if I 
remember rightly, still retained some fringes of their 
scarlet and gold. Among all the sites for buildings 
which I have seen, there is not one which excels, I 
doubt if there is one which equals, the Campus at 

Ithaca has grown since that day and dubbed herself a 
city. But she has not greatly changed. One immense 
improvement, however, there has been. Blessed is the 
originator of the trolleys. I was then comparatively 
light and nimble, yet it was Alpine climbing up that 
hill. A corpulent Professor might have realized the 

The Early Days of Q>mell 

feelings of the fat Gibbon toiling up the hill at Lausanne 
to visit his lady love. 

**0 should she Blnile ! yet should she frown, 
Still, O what raptute to sit down ! " 

To a lady who complained of being kept long waiting 
for the trolley an eminent Professor is said to have re- 
plied : " Madam, I waited for it for twenty years." If 
he lived on the South Hill and had both hills to ascend 
and descend, his wail would be still more pathetic. 

I boarded during the first weeks in the Clinton House, 
where I enjoyed the company of Agassiz, a great man 
of science, simple as a child. He told me that he never 
used a banker, but kept his money in his pocket, and 
when it was all spent, gave a course of lectures and 
made some more. He amused us in one of his lectures 
by an explanation of the deluge in Genesis which he 
thought would satisfy Ithacan orthodoxy. " When the 
Mississippi overflows, what do we hear ? We hear that 
the whole country is under water." He stood out to 
the end against Evolution, but this did not annul the 
value of his inquiry into Species. 

Other notable members of the corps of lecturers were 
George William Curtis, Lowell, and Bayard Taylor. 
Curtis was an admirable speaker, an excellent writer 
on politics, a high-minded patriot, a true statesman 

I ! 

The Eatly Days of Comell 

lost; lost because being a Republican he lived in a 
Democratic district, and by the local restriction which 
American constituencies have imposed upon themselves 
in their choice of representatives, but from which Eng- 
land and Canada are free, he was excluded from elec- 
tion to the Legislature. Lowell I had met when I was 
at Boston at the time of the Civil war ; his patriot soul 
was then full of resentment against Great Britain which 
he, like Americans in general, wrongly identified with 
the Tory party and the Times. It was difficult for a 
Britisher to accost him without drawing a spark of 
patriot fire. But years afterwards I found him in Lon- 
don a favourite of London society, renowned as an after- 
dinner speaker, the competitor in that art of Lord 
Granville, the great master of it, at an Academy dinner, 
and entirely reconciled to the peculiarities of John Bull. 
To Bayard Taylor's lectures also I look back with great 

Ezra Cornell, our Founder, was a character more often 
produced, I take it, in the American democracy than in 
any other commonwealth. Raised by his own industry, 
intelligence, and vigor from the ranks of labor to 
wealth, he retained the simplicity of his early state and 
aspired, not to social or political rank, but to that of a 
great and beneficent citizen. His first question on find- 

The Early Days of ComeU 

ing himself wealthy was how he could do most good 
with his money. He resolved on founding a University 
for the special benefit of poor students. His idea was 
that a young man might support himself by manual 
labour and pursue his studies at the same time. This 
proved an illusion. The experiment was tried, and I 
remember seeing a notice to those who desired employ- 
ment in tending masons, but the result was failure. 
After all, we draw on the same fund of nervous energy 
for the labour of the hand and for that of the brain. 
Only in a man so vigorous as Ezra Cornell could the 
same fund supply both. A general invitation to young 
men of the artisan class in England which in the full- 
ness of his benevolence Ezra Cornell put forth, had it 
been accepted, might have brought trouble on his 

I see the old gentleman now in his familiar buggy or 
sitting in the chair of state at Cascadilla on Founder's 
Day. His figure and face bespoke force and simplicity 
of character. His will undoubtedly was strong, and as 
he could not be familiar with Universities, it would 
have led him astray had there not been at his side the 
best of advisers in the person of Andrew White, whose 
self-sacrificing devotion to the enterprise for which he 
left his elegant home and his ample library at Syracuse, 

The E»rly Day« oi Cornell 

with the salutary influence which he exercised over the 
Founder's policy, well entitle him to be regarded as our 
co-founder. In the early days I have no doubt he had 
much to endure in the way of anxiety and vexation as 
well as in that of discomfort. 

Cornell rendered the most vital service to tl;e Uni- 
versity by locating the scrip given to the State of New 
York by the Federal Government in pine lands, while 
other States sold their scrip at the market price. That 
measure, while it entailed difficulties and struggles for a 
time, was in the end our financial salvation. 

Ezra Cornell had been advised to place the University 
at Syracuse on the ground that the social attractions of 
a city would make it easier to obtain professors. But 
he refused, it was said, for the reason that he had once 
in his humbUr estate waited all day long on the bridge 
at Syracuse to be hired, and at last had been hired by a 
man who cheated him of his wages. If this was a 
legend it was well invented. But it has been truly said 
that there is no pleasure more intense than that of being 
great where once you were little; and that pleasure 
must have been enjoyed by Ezra Cornell in a high de- 
gree when he saw his University rising .ibove the lowly 
home of his early days. 

Eminently plain, frugal, and abstemious in his own 

The Early Dar> oi Cornell 9 

habits, Ezra Cornell would fain have impressed the same 
character on the students of Cornell. If he saw a boy 
smoking he would go up to him and ask In'm if he had 
fifty per cent of brain power to spare. In this austere 
opinion he had on his side an eminent professor of math- 
ematics at Oxford who told me that he marked a decline 
of brain power in his pupils, and that for it he blamed 
the weed. Perhaps for us Eton boys who had nothing 
like fifty per cent of brain power to spare, it was as well 
that we were forbidden to smoke. It is to be feared that 
Ezra would hardly have smiled on athletics in their pres- 
ent high development. The fashion had its origin in 
a social element to him quite alien, that of the wealthy 
youth of the English Universities; though I hardly 
think that in its native seat the fashion has prevailed in 
its extreme extent or assumed this quasi-professional 
character. An English boy, however, being congratu- 
lated on his score at cricket, magnanimously replied that 
he did not care about it for himself but had wished to 
give a lift to his father, his father being a politician of 
high rank. Wellington was supposed to have said that 
Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton. 
In the playing fields of Eton when I was there, play was 
play and nothing more. Nevertheless those boys did 
win Waterloo. 

-^-.V'«V^. M^.- J -M- y^*-- 

The Eailr Days of Comell 

Now Ezra Cornell sleeps in his grave of honour. His 
epitaph in the Memorial Chapel, like that of Wren in 
St. Paul's Cathedral, might be Circumspice. 

A figure which my memory couples with Ezra Cor- 
nell is that of John McGraw, like Cornell a self-made 
millionaire, and like Cornell retaining in wealth the 
frugal simplicity of his early days. Like Cornell too he 
was generous, as the McGraw building bears witness. 
More of his wealth might have ultimately come to the 
University, as I L ieve, if American advocates and 
judges had been more familiar with English history. 
The English Statute of mortmain, which apparently 
was mechanically reproduced in the Statute-book of 
the State of New York, was not made to check benefac- 
tions to national institutions or to objects approved by 
the State, but to check the aggrandizement of the Church 
and the Papacy, which threatened not only to absorb 
property to an inordinate extent, but to impair the mili- 
tary organization of the feudal realm. But the chimes 
of Jennie McGraw are still vocal with the memory of 
the kind and gentle benefactress of Cornell. 

Cascadilla held us all at first. The old pile claims 
oar veneration as the cradle of University life. It is 
pleasant to see the gay vines creeping over it and soft- 
ening its austere grandeur. In early times at night, 

The Early Days of Cornel) 

when every window in it was lighted, it was a truly 
brilliant object. Life in it was perhaps not very luxu- 
rious ; but it was very social. The sight of it recalls to 
my memory many pleasant evenings and many a game 
of euchre. My thoughts often revert to my rooms in 
Cascadilla and to the platform from which I used to gaze 
on sunsets more gorgeous than those of my native land, 
and sometimes to watch the eagle hovering over the lake. 

In those days I used to keep up my British habit of 
taking exercise by long walks. I would go to Dryden, 
spend the night there, and return on foot next day. 
Farmers with their teams seeing me plodding on foot 
and not understanding the British mania would kindly 
offer me a ride. Once I fell in with a farmer who was 
on foot and had a long walk and talk with him. He 
let fall something which seemed to imply that he took 
me for an American. Candour compelled me to confess 
that I was only a Britisher. " Yes," he said, " I knew 
you to be a Britisher by your brogue." 

A summer vacation partly spent at Cascadilla was 
not dull. I had then a circle of Ithacan f-iends and 
acquaintances, now sadly reduced. Then ere was a 
short sojourn at the little watering place of Spencer 
Springs, from which I attended a Camp Meeting and 

The Early D»yi of Cornell 

heard " Rock of Ages" sung by many voices in a green 
temple of nature lighted by the stars. 

Most Europeans visiting the United States form their 
judgment of the character of the people and of the polit- 
ical situation from what they see in the great cities. I 
had two years' intercourse with the people of what was 
then at all events a rural town, and was thereby inspired 
with confidence in the fundamental soundness of the 
Republic. I have often said that if a great question 
were laid before the people of Ithaca with proper infor- 
mation and sufficient time for reflection they rould 
settle it aright. There is danger no doubt to popular 
judgment from the dilution of the native American ele- 
ment by immigration beyond the assimilating power of 
the public schools and other nationalizing forces. 
Otherwise it is not in the people, as It seems to me, but 
in the politicians that the danger lies. 

There came out to me fourteen English workni- n to 
be helped in their start here. None of them attempted 
to combine study with work. But I believe they did 
well ; some of them very well. A memorial of their 
stay is the stone seat which I see still on the Campus, 
the work of their hands, with the inscription : " Above 
All Nations is Humanity." 

Mr. Cornell said to me that he hoped the day would 

The Emit Dst* of Come!! 


come when there would be five thousand students in his 
University. I could not help hinting that there might 
be danger in such a multitude. Would there be a 
market for all the five thousand ? If there were not, 
what would become of the balance? Nothing can be 
more miserable than a man whose sensibilities have 
been cultivated by education and v.-ho wants bread. 
This is a serious question for us when we are multiply- 
ing Universities. I am glad to hear that at present it 
gives birth to no anxiety at Cornell. There are more 
applications I am told, especially in the line of scientific 
manufactures, for Cornell graduates than there are C'>r- 
nell graduates to fill them. Still I *hink the question 
is serious. So is tluit of forcing education generally, 
at least beyond the measure which is practically useful. 
If all could go into intellectual callings it would be well. 
But as society is at present ordered we have to guard 
against depleting the ordinary industries and over-stock- 
ing the more intellectual lines. " Some hands," as 
Carlyle said, " must still be soiled b.- ploughing." 

The ideal and instruments of education with which 
I came into contact in passing from Eton and Oxford to 
Cornell were essentially new to me. The ideal of Eton 
and Oxford was cuUvre, wholly apart from bread-win- 
ning, and the instruments of culture were the classics 




The Early Day* of Cornell 

and mathematics ; mathematir'^ holding at Oxford a very 
secondary, at Eton a less than secondary, place. The 
regular school instruction at Eton was entirely confined 
to classics. Even mathematics were an extra recently 
imported. The mathematical teacher was not recog. 
nized as one of the regular staff. He did not, like the 
masters, wear a gown, nor did the boys take off their 
hats to him. It was said that when he first came he 
asked the old Provost, a typical conservative, whether 
he was to wear a -own. " That is as you please,"' was 
the reply. " But are the boys to take off their hats to 
me?" "That is as they please." To bread-winning 
the s ,stera was supposed to lead only by general strength- 
ening of the mind. In fact it was that of a class which 
had not its bread to win. Moreover it was a legacy 
from the time in which almost all the knowledge worth 
having, as wel! as all the literary culture, was still locked 
up in Greek and Latin. At Cornell, founded specially 
for students who had their bread to win, a different 
ideal and system naturally awaited me. Here practical 
science reigns, and a Cornell degree in that line is a pass- 
port to employment. The line, however, between prac- 
tical science and culture is not hard and fast. The 
study of science in so far as it exercises and enlightens 
the mind is culture, though mechanical application is 



The EmIt D«n of ConcO 



not. The eliange at M events was inevitable. Even 
at Eton and Oxford there have been changes; the 
classics, though still predominant, have been making 
room for more modern and practical studies. From Cor- 
nell the ' nanities have not been banished as science 
and the bread-winning studits were banished from Ox- 
ford in former days. The government has done its best 
to encourage them. To them is to be devoted the Hall 
of Humanities in which the Muses are to reign, and the 
corner-stone of which I had the great honour of laying 
the other day. After all, the object is to train not only 
the bread-winner but the man. The bread is necessary 
to the bread-winner not only as his food but to enable 
him to maintain a home and to enjoy that domestic 
affection .vhieh is culture in the highest degree, if not 
of the intellect, of the soul. Yet wealth when it is 
made can be but half enjoyed without any source of in. 
tellectual pleasure. " What can I do," sighed the man, 
who, having made a fortune by building saw-mills, went 
on building them in the evening of his days; " I have no 
other tastes or interests ; what can I do but build saw- 
mills?" The wealthier students especially are bound 
to be true to culture both for their own sakes and be- 
cause they give a tone to society. In this Common- 
wealth, where there are no titles and politics are not to 


The Earlr D«yi oi Cornell 

the taste of all, the heir of wealth ihoiild try to equip 
himself for the part of a noble citizen. 

In this highly practical age and continent there are 
those who would not only banisli classical culture from 
the Universities, but apparently would put an end to 
College training altogether, holding that it not only 
does not fit, but actually unfits for the one great object 
of life. It has bten said that an oflfice boy at fourteen 
is worth more than a College man of four and twenty. 
All honour and success to the ofl^ce boy. Productive 
indLslry must be the general foundation, though not 
the whole edifice of civilization. We live by bread, 
though not by bread alone. Survey the history of man- 
kind; consider through what effort, what struggles 
what sufferings humanity has been striving to reach the 
goal of perfection. If all wa- destined to enc^ ' the 
office boy, Providence, with due reverence be jaid 
might have taken a more direct and more mercift 'oad 
to its mark. The admirers of the office boy, per..aps, 
have not fully considered how much productive industry 
owes to the most abstraot science and even, though less 
dir«ctly, to cultivation and taiio 

At Oxford I was always for the abolition of compul. 
sory Greek on the simple ground that in the case of the 
vast majority of students it could not be thoroughly 

The Ru\r D»y> of ComcU 


taught. Very small wai the number of those who after 
cramming it for their degree ever again opened a Greek 
book. We must bear in mind, however, that our scien- 
tific, philosophic, and medical language is Greek, and 
that if the knowledge of Greek were lost the words 
would become mere counters, alien to the rest of the 
language, without historical or living sigi.; Seance. 

The world appears to be falling under the dominion 
of accumulated wealth. Money sways the legislature | 
money sways the press. This would not be good, even 
if the wealth were always in the best of hands. No one 
can look forward with satisfaction to such an end of all 
this political and social effort as Plutocracy. But how 
is that result to be averted ? It begins to be whispered. 
By force ; a terrible remedy and one which would be apt 
to shatter not only Plutocracy, but the social system. 
The office boy evidently will offer no resistance. A 
place in the Plutocracy is the aim of his ambition. The 
College boy, having a different if > il, may offer resist- 
ance, though of a happitr and more salutary kind than 
force, and indeed is offering it now. 

Among the accumulators of great fortunes themselves, 
some of the most large-minded and benevolent have paid 
homage to high education by the foundation and en- 
dowment of Universities. We have an illustrious in- 
stance of this in our own Founder. 


The Early Days of Cornell 

Another important point of difference which struck 
me at once was the absence of competitive examination, 
prizes, and honour lists, which at Oxford and Cambridge 
are the great stimulants to industry. The stimulant is 
needed when the study, however valuable as mental 
training, is not in itself profitable, as are not Latin and 
Greek or the study of mathematics of which the student 
is never to make any practical application. In the case 
of bread-winning studies there is obviously no need of 
such a stimulant. Competition may be useful in 
awakening dormant powers. Lord Althorpe said that 
it was comoetition for a college prize which first 
awakened his intellect and led to his becoming, instead 
of a mere game-preserver and fox-hunter, a successful 
leader of the House of Commons. Cases of this kind 
there may be. But ambition is not generally the parent 
of happiness ; nor am I sure that the effect of prizes is 
always wholesome. The intrinsic value of the study 
and the hope of acquiring through it an honest liveli- 
hood are the sounder and healthier motive. I should 
be sorry to see the competitive system, if it were possi- 
ble, introduced here. 

New to me again were the Fraternities, into one of 
which, the Psi Upsilon, I had the honour to be admitted 
in company with Andrew White, of whose friendship I 


The Early Days of CommII 


am proud, and Willard Fiske, whose death I deplore. 
I have heard misgivings about the system of Fraterni- 
ties expressed in a quarter deserving of respect. There 
are no doubt varieties of character among them, and 
there may be evils against which it is necessary to 
guard. There may be danger of cliquishness. But in 
a University of three thousand students there must be 
inner circles, and there seems no reason for believing 
that Fraternities are likely to be more cliquish than 
inner social circles otherwise formed would be. Oxford 
and Cambridge are federations of colleges, by each of 
which to some extent inner social circles are formed. 
What the colleges do for Oxford and Cambridge, Frater- 
nities do in a different way here. Friendships and in- 
terchange of ideas are secondary objects of college life, 
compared with study ; yet they are important objects, 
as any one looking back upon his college life will feel. 
A Fraternity is surely better for this purpose than a 
dormitory. Nor does the connection wholly end there. 
You have still the Fraternity record, linking the lives 
in some measure together and serving perhaps in a 
slight degree to help in keeping the path of honour. In 
this wide continent, with its vast and shifting popula- 
tion, where a life begun in New York is continued in 
Chicago and ends in California, we should be grains in 

The Early Days of Cornell 

' ii 

a vast sand-heap blown about by the winds if we had 
not bonds of some kind to connect us with each other. 
Of course I do not mean to defend anything so plainly 
wrong as rowdy or dangerous forms of initiation. I 
would not defend these any more than I would defend 
hazing, of which we shall some day be sick. At Ox- 
ford we had hazing in a very mild form. But the 
victims there were not so often fellow-students as 
members of the Faculty, Dons as they were called. 
A common trick was to screw up the outer door, " the 
oak," as it was named, of a Don's room, and thus pre- 
vent his appearance at morning Chapel, a disappoint- 
ment which, if he was good-natured, was calmly borne. 
But if those young gentlemen had practiced hazing 
much upon each other, we should have had serious quar- 
rels. Hazing broke out once at my College. The vic- 
tim was an unpopular student. The member of the 
Faculty who had to deal with the case having the cul- 
prits before him said : " Young gentlemen, if you want 
to play practical jokes on any body play them on me, and 
I hope I shall not catch you. Me you cannot insult. 
Insult your fellow-student you may. We are the guard- 
ians of the honour of everyone beneath this roof and we 
mean to fulfill that trust." We did not in that College 
hear of any more hazing. 


The Eatlr Days of ComeU 

Yet another thing new to me then, though now famil- 
iar, was co-education, introduced by Mr. Sage, the mu- 
nificent founder of Sage College. One past middle-age 
does not readily take in new ideas. I am afraid I have 
not very heartily embraced co-education. I used to look 
with conservative sympathy on Wells College. I am 
not sure that I should not do so now. Equality of the 
sexes by all means, in suitable culture as in other re- 
spects. But perfect equality is compatible with diver- 
sity of gifts and distinction of parts in life. Are the co- 
educationists sure that they are not diverting woman's 
ideal, or that in diverting woman's ideal they would do 
right, making her the rival instead of the help-mate and 
companion of man ? In the domestic firmament clouds 
appear to be rising. Nature, we all admit, has shown 
good judgment and taste in making two sexes. At all 
events she has done it, and when you oppose her she 
generally has her way. It does not seem that Vassar, 
Elmira, or Wells loses favour. A large proportion no 
doubt of our female students are preparing for teacher- 
ships in schools. Theirs is a special case ; though the 
policy of cor "9;ning the education of both sexes in our 
schools entiu.y to women, begins itself to be the subject 
of discussion. However, there can be no doubt that. 

The Early Days of ConieU 

granting the principle, Sage College is a great success 
and a noble monument of the beneficence of its founder. 
There is, I think, a perceptible difference in character 
between the English and American student, the result 
of the different social moulds in which the characters 
have been cast. The English student looks to being 
ruled by academical law and is ruled with ease, pro- 
vided you do not touch his pride, question his veracity, 
or irritate him by that which of all things he most 
abhors, the employment of espionage. The American 
student is more a law to himself and might be less 
patient of the restrictions of an English College. 'T'he 
trial of the Rhodes students will be a test. I cannot 
say that I should myself have welcomed that founda- 
tion. I see no use, while I see possible evil, in the 
transfer of a set of promising youths in the formative 
period of life to a social element different from that in 
which their after years are to be passed. An American 
youth may now get just as good an education even of 
the classical kind in his own country as he can in Eng- 
land. The underlying motive of the foundation is 
political, and with politics, universities, like churches, 
have nothing to do ; they are the missionaries of science 
and culture. Athletic success and social popiflanty are 
not academical qualificat'ons, nor is social popularity a 

The Early D«ys of Conicll 


perfectly sound qualiBcation in itself. Candour bids me 
add that T, should have recoiled from making my Uni- 
versity a monument to the memory of Cecil Rhodes. 

Two years the English Professor spent in teaching at 
Cornell, and in his long life there have not been two 
better or happier years than those. He is often re- 
minded of them by the greeting of an old Cornell pupil. 
It was not by any failure of interest in his work at 
Cornell that he was afterwards called to Canada, and 
to the homes of branches of his family settled before 
him there.